Review by Manny Manson for MPM
Norwich Theatre Royal 10/01/2022
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall 14/01/2022
So, 2022 kicks of with uncertainty, bands are pulling out of tours left right and centre. Music fans are now having to wait to see if their favourite bands are going to venture out and play live or not.
However, all is not lost, from under the cloud of despair we have a little ray of sunshine. The Classic Rock Show has stuck its head above the parapet and embarked on a 6-week tour, that includes Scotland and Wales, however, those dates hang in the balance due to local, country specific, Covid rulings.
For those of you who haven’t heard of ‘The Classic Rock Show’, let me enlighten you a bit.
The show has been touring almost annually for nearly 10 years and in this time, it’s undergone several line-up changes, each one out doing the last. The show, currently, has 8 members that are busy working musicians in their own right.
The new comer to the line-up for this year is drummer Tim Brown. After a stupendous ‘audition’ at the 2020 Christmas gig in which original drummer Karl Penny couldn’t make it, Tim stepped in with his own brand of flamboyancy and minimal kit and smashed his way into the hearts of the fans, when Karl decided not to tour this year, he was the natural choice.
This year’s line-up includes an American and a Canadian, both of whom have travelled across the pond to join the tour. LA based Rudy Cardenas, a stunning vocalist and the sensational Peter Thorn, guitarist to many and host of his own YouTube channel and Guitarnerd Facebook page. Both have toured with the show previously and are loved by the fans.
The current band are; James Cole, guitarist and British Touring Car racing driver, the musical director and boss, Wayne Banks on Bass, probably the longest serving member, Henry Burnett, keyboardist and all round nice guy, Jesse Smith, vocalist and frontman of Boot Led Zeppelin and Led Zep Symphonic, Jess Harwood, vocalist, keyboardist and ‘Stevie’ in Rumours of Fleetwood Mac, the afore mentioned Tim Brown, drummer with Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash, Rudy Cardenas, American Idol contestant who has come a long way since getting a No from Simon Cowell all those years ago, and, finally Peter Thorn, former guitarist with Melissa Etheridge, and Chris Cornell, fronts a busy YouTube channel demo-in gear and playing with some of the greatest guitarists around today. And breathe.
The set is an ever-evolving collection that those of us of a certain age will know, and those of us who don’t will soon love. The set is in two halves, thankfully, this gives us time for a pee and a tub of ice cream!
This year see’s the set kick off with AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, previous starters have included Led Zeppelins Whole Lotta Love. This opener is sung by the amazing Jesse Smith, dressed in a sliver leaf designed suit, he rocks this vocal way to easily. His choice of clothing match his extrovert talent, as he gives an astonishing performance. This flows into ‘American Girl’, a great choice from the Tom Petty and the Heart breakers archive, sadly Tom is yet another star that’s no longer with us, but he leaves us with some great music.
This time the vocal duties fall to fellow American, Rudy Cardenas who spends no time smashing this great tune out of the park. One thing that is so good about this band is the great interplay between all of them. It’s obvious that they have a great friendship as this overflows onto the stage by the bucket load.
The only ‘girl’ in the group takes on the next number, dressed in black Jess Harwood slinks her way to the centre stage as the band grind out the intro that can only be one song, ‘Black Velvet’.
With a sultry voice that just drips like golden syrup and a grip on the microphone to make you go weak at the knees, Jess gives this one the beanz, as she gyrates to the beat. Looking around the auditorium, she has the attention of every bloke there!
‘Highway Star’ follows on. This great Deep Purple track from the 1972 album Machine Head has the house rocking. Wayne Banks on bass gets the intro going as the crowd start to clap along, Jesse Smith gets the vocal duties for this as he does a great Gillan scream and we’re into this classic tune.
Wayne, on bass is racing around the stage hair flailing as he plays. At one point the band form around Henry Burnett on Keys as he crashes out the Jon Lord keyboard solo, disco duck sparkling under the attention of the lights. Pete Thorn on silver and black signature Suhr guitar and James Cole on white Fender Stratocaster, smash out the solo as a guitar harmony, Jesse joins them with a black Les Paul before talking up the vocals again. Four songs in and we get a standout out tune, one of many I can assure you.
Up next is a song by a band that the show has never covered before. It’s introduced by Rudy who takes this opportunity to chat to the fans. It’s pointed out that this is how the tune originally sounded as an Emerald Green bass guitar slams in with the familiar intro to ‘Don’t believe a Word’ by that great Irish band Thin Lizzy, from their ’76 album Johnny the Fox.
The vocal oozes class as Rudy delivers a sublime vocal, James on guitar cuts in with a smooth solo as this slow ballad gathers momentum, it then jumps a gear and we get Jesse taking over the vocals and we have three LP guitars on stage as we get to the part everyone is waiting for, the fast solo falls to the hands of Pete Thorn who wrings it out on a Black LP, the song finishes with the three guitars playing that harmony riff to a full stop. Yet another standout performance, see what I mean.
Pete Thorn now takes to the mic to introduce this Canadian trio. A band that stuck to its guns and when asked for a hit record delivered the seminal ‘2112’ hardly an album that gave any hits, the first track is 20 minutes long! The 7th studio album, Permanent Waves, released in 1980 gave the band ‘RUSH’ one of its most iconic songs from that era. ‘Spirit of Radio’ a stand out for any Rush fan.
Pete, again on trade mark Silver and Black Suhr signature thrashes out that triplet intro as we get launched into this prog masterpiece. With some mighty Neil Peart drum beats handled supremely by Tim Brown, with stick tricks thrown in, this flamboyant drummer marks time like a classic Timex watch, the changes in time signature are all on point. Jesse is doing a great job on the Geddy Lee vocal’s, and the Alex Lifeson solo, (isn’t the whole song one extended solo), is smashed out by Pete.
‘Listen to The Music’ follows on from that stunning track. This Doobies Brothers song brings it all back down to earth as Rudy shows he has the vocals for this great track. With both James and Jesse on acoustics this song jangles along at a great pace, allowing the guys to catch their breath after RUSH.
No Classic Rock Show would be complete without a tune from the Beatles. The show, having been born in Liverpool has had a Beatles track feature as long as I can remember. This tour we have the epic ‘Get Back’ This song had a lyric re write to make it more socially acceptable by Paul McCartney but there’s no denying it’s as a great number. Originally released in 1969 it was the only Beatles song to have a guest artist credited on any release, ‘The Beatles with Billy Preston’. Preston played the piano on the track.
‘Gimmie Shelter’ from the Rolling Stones follows on this this 1969 vibe. These two great bands were often pitched against each other by the media, this is represented by the video introduction.
The screens then fill up with multiple lips and tongues as the guitars rip into this iconic tune. Rudy, with more than a tip of the hat to Jagger rocks out, joined by Jess Harwood who harmonises with him as they play off each other, a great duet performed by these two, Jesse Smith breaks up the romance as he cracks out the ‘harp’ solo as the guitars play back and forth with the riffage.
A favourite band of the Classic Rock Show is the mighty Van Halen and tonight is no exception as we have two songs from this band of my youth, pre-Hagar days. The drums crack to life with that unmistakable Alex Van Halen drum riff played on the toms, the kick drum joins in and then the trademark snare crashes, Tim Brown is playing his best life, his sticking is, as always, on point as Pete Thorn complete with an EVH Frankenstein guitar starts to melt your eyeballs with that opening riff.
Rudy swaggers to the front of the stage as the ‘Hot for Teacher’ kicks in proper. Wayne on Bass and Pete are back and forth across the stage as the song progresses, Jess and Jesse are at the back swaying along to this great tune.
ZZ Tops ‘Gimmie All Your Lovin’ is next, keeping the atmosphere and tempo up in the stratosphere, Pete has gotten an Ibanez Lawsuit ‘Destroyer’, Gibson Explorer styled guitar, complete with hockey stick headstock out of his box of guitars and its sounding on the money. James, across the way is playing the traditional les Paul. He, Wayne and Rudy are stood in line giving it the ZZ dance much to the amusement of the rest of the band as Pete crunches out the Gibbons solo at the front of the stage.
Rudy explains that they can’t come and do the meet and great as they would normally do after the show, but promises that next year it’ll all be good, fingers crossed nothing else happens in the world. With that he said he announces the set one closer, Led Zeppelins ‘Kashmir’, sang by the one and only Jesse smith.
The big orchestral sound fills the room as the song is played out, Jesse totally at home with the song as lights beam around the venue, he cries out like only Plant can do, you can see why he’s been chosen to front Led Zeppelin Symphonic. His voice is made for this tune, controlled, delicate yet powerful where needed. A great end to the first set.
Ice Cream and a pee time, thank god for an intermission. I also get a chance to chat with friends old and new. The Face Book group has gathered momentum, with several new additions after each show added to the ranks.
Ok so we’ve been watered and abluted (if that’s a word?) folk have refilled the auditorium and are now awaiting set two, which historically has been a bit pacier and a lot louder.
It starts of rather sedately with Dire Straits ‘Money for Nothing’. This has been in the set for a few seasons now and used to be sung by Howie on guitar. Tonight, we hear Rudy sing the intro and then the singing duties are taken over by the bassman himself, Wayne Banks. Straight away the crowd are clapping with little or no encouragement from Wayne.
Following straight on we see James bring out the double neck white SG, at this point in the set it can only mean one song, again another staple in the set list, The Eagles ‘Hotel California’. Jesse on Taylor acoustic accompanies the 12 string leads us down that dark desert highway. It’s a great tune that ultimately ends with some great guitar work, remembering that on stage is a guy who has played regularly with the founding members of the band, stunning performance backed up by the timing as they play along to the video projected on the screen behind them.
What follows can only be called the stand out song of the night. From a band I’m all to familiar with but during my formative years, a band that were considered a ‘MOD’ band its one I gave very little ear time to. The Who and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ what a bloody song. Simple lyrically but oh so powerfully put across by Jesse Smith. It’s a hairs on the arm standing up type of song. I’ve managed to see a couple of shows and it’s had the same effect each time. With its rain water sound effect, drum and piano intro, with Henry bathed in blue light, acoustic guitar throughout as Pete plays over the top, only bettered by Jesse’s vocal cries over the top, the last lyric is simply divine! Bloody brilliant choice of song, performed flawlessly!
With everyone now well awake after the belly full of ice cream at the intermission, it’s now Jess’s turn to enchant the crowd with her Bonnie Tylor tune, yes that’s the one, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ yet another timeless classic given the Classic Rock Show treatment. Its great to hear Jess sing something different to her usual Stevie Nicks tracks from her day job in Rumours of Fleetwood Mac which has not long finished touring. Rudy shares the intro as they back and forth as the song builds gently. The bridge see’s everyone on the mic oohing and aahing, Jess now with mic in her hand smashes out the song to great applause from the appreciative audience.
Time for some outrageous drum flourishes as we get Tim showing how good he is around the kit. Aerosmith’s ‘Love in an Elevator’ is another new addition to the set and a great choice. If you can tear your eyes away from what’s going on up front and watch the drum meister, he has arms and seemingly legs everywhere, sticks being spun, thrown and swirled but never missing a beat, faces constantly being pulled like a gurning machine, Tim is loving every minute, how his glasses aren’t steamed up or even still on his head is amazing in itself. His energy is limitless it would seem.
This groovier song has the crowd on their feet, Rudy is pacing back and forth across the front of the stage as he knocks this one out of the park.
It’s brought a proper party atmosphere to the venue, just in time as we have another firm favourite up next, ‘Bat out of Hell’ heralded by Motorcycle sound effects in which the crowd are encouraged to clap and join in. Wayne is bouncing around like Tigger from Winnie the pooh as the twin guitars harmonise perfectly. Henry tickles the keys as Jesse takes command of the lyrics, singing to the crowd he parades across the stage, the crowd singing along to his every word. Rudy comes in from the side of the stage and takes over the vocals.
The pair now share the duty. The crowd are clapping, some are stood, mask’s in place dancing in their seats. Rudy and Jesse join Jess at her keyboard as the three of them sing the chorus. Pete thrashes out the scorching solo as Rudy wafts him down, cooling the strings, that silver and black Suhr gets a proper airing during this energetic set list staple. Rudy hits that last ‘HELL’ and holds it for what seems like forever, Jesse points at him and nods in approval.
Boston’s ‘More Than A feeling’, a version was recorded and played on the Patreon page during lock down. It’s been previously performed live by the Classic Rock Show, sung by Carl Sentence and John West now gets the Rudy treatment. A tune guaranteed to get the feet tapping and the hands clapping.
Another song to feature James on the Gibson double neck, and in the back Jesse on his Taylor 6 string. The twin guitars smash out the solo, again Pete’s signature Suhr making the cut for this tune. The screens have the trade mark Boston UFO guitar emblazoned across them giving the song a colourful backdrop.
James rocking out with a red SG can only mean one thing, it’s time for a bit more AC/DC. ‘Highway to Hell’ has Jesse grinding out the Bon Scott’s lyrics to this classic ‘DC’ song. Solo duties fall to James this time as Wayne and Pete rock out. AC/DC is on fire across the screens just like it is on stage, yet another great job done by the band.
A familiar keyboard sound rattles out as Rudy encourages the crowd to ‘JUMP’ what’s this, oh my god Henry has a bloody Keytar and is parading around the stage thumping the keys and joining in with the rest of the band. Standing on Tim’s drum riser so everyone can see him.
Henry takes centre stage as Pete along with Frankenstein rip out a solo, followed by a keyboard solo where everyone crowds around Henry and his Keytar, the smile on his face would put any Cheshire cat to shame. He poses shamelessly for all photo’s during his moment of fame. The crowd, on their feet, approve with much cheering and clapping as this epic performance finishes.
Set closer follows and it can only be one song for that, ‘Freebird’ played in its entirety, introduced by Jesse. The keys start and Tim on drums plays the intro as the screens display pictures of the original line up, some sadly no longer with us. The Gary Rossington slide guitar harmonises with Jesse, as he stands, lit by several light canons, acoustic guitar slung around his neck sings and plays along to the opening verse. Pete has his Lawsuit Ibanez Destroyer out for this one strumming along. The phones come out as the crowd get behind this one.
The song slowly builds as Pete and James hit centre stage guitars howling like a pair of berserk banshee’s, Pete’s eyes are closed as he channels Allen Collins while they play the solo in harmony. The two dance around each other as they battle back n forth, the two guitars screaming in ascension as Banksy and Jesse join them at the stage front. Looking around the crowd are heads down and those with hair are moving it, who wouldn’t to this great tune.
They make a brief exit then are back on for an encore or two. Starting with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The lights are dimmed as the band all stand at their microphones and sing the acapella intro as the faces of Queen appear on the screens behind. Rudy takes on the vocals as the crowd join in singing along. James is now sporting a Brian May Red One guitar for the authentic sound.
Whilst Pete has a sunburst LP. They rock it, a great tribute to a great band and song. The song finishes with strobe lighting and we’re straight into the piano intro to The Who ‘We Won’t Get Fooled Again’. This has given Wayne enough time to remove his T shirt. This is something of a ritual now and looked forward to my many. For the entire song he jumps about like a Duracell powered bunny. The guy is in shape as he bounds about, something he’s managed to do all night long. Vocals are handled by Jesse on this one.
As the final song of the night the whole band have cut loose, we get the obligatory bass solo from Wayne, centre stage brilliant. Pete Thorn covers Pete Townsend solo with aplomb. The Who play live on the screens behind and its note perfect, although Entwistle isn’t quite as animated as Wayne. James handles the solo just before Jesse introduces the band to the cheering crowd. Rudy finishes of the accolades and they are back into finishing off the track, Henry and Wayne have a brief fight with a pair of drumsticks behind the keyboard then it’s back down to business.
The band make their way to the centre of the stage and take the applause, Tim towers over them all as they wave and clap back at the crowd. They slowly make their way off stage and the venue begins to empty.
What a couple of nights that’s been. I’ve travelled that’s for sure but they’re well worth seeing. I know some people hate bands that play covers but sadly, to hear a lot of the more classic rock music live today it can only be done by bands with non-original line ups. We all know and have seen bands that are trading off the name of the band made years ago, but that’s not the point. Live music is live music and when it’s played well, in today’s environment, while bands are cancelling tours almost daily, who cares who the band is.
Get a ticket and enjoy over 2hrs of entertaining, live music played well, beats the hell out of watching the Goggle box in the corner.
Here’s a list of dates for the 2022 tour.